"We were scheduled to go to Alaska next year (Nov., 2003). But in looking at the tournament, not looking at the field of the tournament, we felt it wasn't in our teams best interest next year to play at Alaska. We talked to the Alaska people and they appreciated the manner in which we handled it and said they would release us with the option of coming back in the next two years. The timing of it, with a young team, was not right. We would have to be out of school the whole week of Thanksgiving, play several games the next week, you lose control of who you play and we played some of the same teams in Maui last year. We felt in some ways it would be a repeat of Maui. We just didn't feel comfortable with it."
What will USC do now? USC is talking with the Gazelle Group and is working towards an agreement to play in the Guardians Classic, a tournament set up by the NABC.
"We are talking with Rick Giles of the Gazelle Group about playing in an exempt tournament. The first two games would be here, at The Carolina Center, with one or two of the four teams advancing to play the next week in Kansas City. The number of teams will be determined by the lawsuit filed last year. That ruling should come about in June. If they rule in favor of those pressing litigation, one being the Gazelle Group, the field would be of national strength. If they rule against them, then the tournament would still happen, but it might have eight teams instead of 16. The Guardians Classic offers you four games, while Alaska offers you three."
Why do you feel Alaska would be different in two years?
"We will have a very young team next year, with four freshmen playing a major role. I think in two years our team will better be able to handle that type of environment. We will be a stronger team. This next year every game we play needs to count towards qualifying for the NCAA Tournament.
"We need to allow our team a chance to be the best we can be next year. This is a year where we are coming off a difficult year and not just in wins and losses."
Any news on a new assistant coach and USC Assistant Coach Rick Duckett, whose name has been linked with the job at North Carolina A&T?
"We will wait and see what happens with Rick Duckett. We were very happy for Ernie Nestor yesterday, being named the Head Coach at Elon College. The University of South Carolina, our program, our team lost a valued aide. I have considered him a co-coach for 10 years and a friend for 28 years. You learn more about a person sitting next to them in tight situations on the bench that any other place. You have to make decisions quickly and that's a great way to learn about a person. I hate losing Ernie, but I am happy for him.
"Do I have someone in mind to replace him? No.
"My gut feeling is we won't lose Rick Duckett, but that may change. He has the highest recommendation from me. I know the Athletics Director, Charlie Davis and wish Rick the most luck. Rick Duckett is an excellent coach and he should pursue this opportunity. If Rick Duckett stays here, I will have one opening. If Rick Duckett leaves in a few days or two weeks and I have hired one coach, I will say 'We should have waited'. I have a lot of options, but I am big on staff chemistry. To put someone in there with Rick Duckett, Barry Sanderson and Bill Old, is one thing, but if Rick decides to leave, that makes it different all together. I have spoken to no one about it and nothing has been done. Any names you hear floating around have to be false because I will speak to no one about it."
Are your recruits qualified?
"One of our signees, Renaldo Balkman, did qualify on the SAT. He scored a mark that would take care of the minimum GPA requirement. So, he is in a position to be here."
What about the incoming class as a group? What about your players here right now?
"We had certain needs with this class. We feel we met many of those. All four will contribute in a significant way next year. We think this is the kind of class we have to sink our teeth into and ride them. The kind of class that in four years will deliver for USC. The freshmen are the hope."
How is the off-season going?
The players we have now, they need further skill development. But they are working very hard. Carlos Powell, Mike Boynton, John Chappell have become better in their skill development since the season ended. Rolando Howell is still under the cloak of injury - he has a stress fracture and has been placed in a cast for 3 weeks. He will be better. Kerbrell Brown had a knee operation on Friday and will be out four-six weeks. Tarence Kinsey is also recovering from surgery. So there are three players who need to work on skill development that are out for right now.
"We are working develop leaders this spring. This past year we couldn't get them on edge. They are on edge now - when you don't play up to potential, it hurts. We have seen a lot of growth this spring in the form of leadership - in a way I haven't seen since Aaron Lucas left. I thought it was there, there was potential, but now it's showing.
"Carlos Powell is angry. We didn't have a great year, he is angry that he left USC down; he wants the players to stand up and play better. Rolando Howell and Mike Boynton are angry. They are using it in a positive way though and working harder than ever. This spring we are working harder than we ever have and we are seeing results from it."